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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   23i
"Zinochka, they're all like that nowadays," said Bur-
nazyan in the^tone of a gossiping aunt. "They are all
deceivers. Don't trust any of them. Fly from them like
the devil from holy water. Better take me as your pu-
pil." With that he threw his stick into the hall and, puf-
fing and grunting, climbed through the window at which
Zinochka was standing, sad and perplexed.
Meanwhile, Alexei ran to the lake, holding the letter
in his hand as if afraid that someone would run after him
and rob him of his treasure. Pushing through the rustling
reeds, he sat down on a mossy boulder and, completely
hidden by the tall grass, scrutinised the precious enve-
lope, holding it with trembling fingers. What did it con-
tain? What sentence was it about to pronounce? The
envelope was worn and frayed; it must have roamed
about a great deal before it reached its destination. Ale-
xei cautiously tore a strip from the envelope and his eye
caught the last line of the letter: "Darling, ever yours.
Olya." A feeling of relief overcame him at once. He now
calmly smoothed the sheets of exercise-book paper on his
knee—for some reason they were smudged with clay and
stained with candle grease. Olya was always so neat and
tidy, what had happened to her? And then he read ti-
dings that filled him with both pride and alarm. It ap-
peared that Olya had left the mill a month ago and was
now living somewhere in the steppe with other girls and
women from Kamyshin, digging anti-tank ditches and
fortifications around "a certain big city, the name of
which is sacred to us all," as she put it. The name, Stalin-
grad, was not mentioned anywhere in the letter, but from
the love, anxiety and hope with which she wrote about
this "big city", it was evident that she meant Stalingrad.
She wrote that thousands of volunteers like her were
working in the steppe day and night, digging, carting
earth, laying concrete and building. It was a cheerful
letter, but from some of the expressions it contained it
was clear that those women and girls in the steppe were
having- a hard time. Only after she had related to him
the affairs with which she was evidently entirely absorbed
did she answer the question he had put to her. In
angry terms she wrote that she had been deeply hurt by
his last letter, which she had received "here, in the